Elie considers whether mob violence reflects the views of the majority of white southerners, describing white New Orleanians who brought their influence to bear to improve living conditions for African Americans. Elie discusses his efforts in support of fair hiring practices for municipal jobs and suggests that the slow pace of reform would lead to large-scale demonstrations. Elie expresses doubt as to whether white people (in the U.S. and abroad) will ever acknowledge the basic humanity of black people. He also argues that some African Americans need to acknowledge their own humanity. Elie then assesses the black Muslim movement and describes some of the ways in which Christian churches have failed African Americans. Douglas expresses his displeasure with the Catholic Church and discusses how the geographic dispersal of the African American community in New Orleans has proven a hindrance to reforms. All three discuss Gunnar Myrdal's proposal for Reconstruction, the advisability of preferential treatment for African Americans, and some of the difficulties associated with desegregation efforts. They close the interview by discussing African American families and describing the role of Jewish people in the civil rights movement.
The interview starts abruptly, but both Lolis Elie and Warren can be heard clearly while it is difficult to distinguish between Collins and Douglas at times. The dating of this interview is uncertain. The first two sound files are dated Feb. 2 in the Historic Sound Recordings collection at Yale while the last two are dated Feb. 8, but the conversation in the third file appears more or less continuous with the conversation on the second.
Photo of Robert Collins by Eliot Kamenitz, courtesy of The Times-Picayune.
Audio courtesy of Yale University.
Lolis Elie, Nils Douglas and Robert Collins
Robert Collins (1931- ) is a civil rights attorney and former federal judge. Collins was born in New Orleans and graduated from Dillard University in 1951. In the fall of 1951 Collins enrolled at Louisiana State University Law School, becoming one of the first three African American students to do so. He graduated from LSU Law School in 1954. Collins later started a legal practice with Loyola Law School alums Lolis Elie and Nils Douglas. In 1960 the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked Collins and his firm to represent CORE after a sit-in campaign. Collins and his firm defended CORE chapter President Rudy Lombard and three others who were arrested for staging a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which, in its decision, declared the city's ban on sit-ins unconstitutional. Collins' firm also provided free legal counsel to the Consumers' League, a group of black civil rights activists who protested discriminatory employment practices. President Jimmy Carter nominated Collins to serve as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. At the time, Collins was the first African American federal judge to sit on the bench in the South in the twentieth century. Collins resigned his post amid claims that he accepted a bribe in exchange for giving a criminal defendant a lighter sentence. Collins was ultimately convicted of bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, and, in September 1991, was sentenced to a prison term of six years and ten months.
Nils Douglas (1930-2003) was a civil rights attorney. A native of New Orleans, Douglas completed his undergraduate degree at Dillard University in 1950 and graduated from Loyola University School of Law in 1959. After graduation, Douglas started a legal practice with Loyola classmate Lolis Elie and Louisiana State University Law School graduate Robert Collins. In 1960 the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked Douglas and his firm to represent CORE after a sit-in campaign. Douglas and his firm defended CORE chapter President Rudy Lombard and three others who were arrested for staging a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which, in its decision, declared the city's ban on sit-ins unconstitutional. Douglas's firm also provided free legal counsel to the Consumers' League, a group of black civil rights activists who protested discriminatory employment practices. In the late 1960s, Douglas helped form the Southern Organization for Unified Leadership, a group that worked to register, organize, and mobilize black voters. Douglas became commissioner in the magistrate section of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in 1974.
Lolis Elie (1930- ) is a civil rights attorney. A native of New Orleans, Elie attended Howard University and Dillard University, and later graduated in 1959 from Loyola Law School. After graduation, Elie started a legal practice with Loyola classmate Nils Douglas and Louisiana State University Law School graduate Robert Collins. In 1960 the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked Elie and his firm to represent CORE after a sit-in campaign. Elie and his firm defended CORE chapter President Rudy Lombard and three others who were arrested for staging a sit-in protest at the lunch counter of the McCrory Five and Ten Cent Store in New Orleans. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court which, in its decision, declared the city's ban on sit-ins unconstitutional. Elie's firm also provided free legal counsel to the Consumers' League, a group of black civil rights activists who protested discriminatory employment practices. Elie was one of seven supporters of the Freedom Riders who met with then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1961, when Kennedy encouraged them to shift their efforts to registering black Southerners to vote. Elie later organized a law firm with white attorney Al Bronstein. The pair argued civil rights cases and also established a training program for new black lawyers.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Lois Elie, Douglas
*handwritten note- unintelligible
A: If I might say this, if you recall, yesterday you had referred to a statement that James Baldwin made, to the effect that the mob does not represent the thinking of the majority of the people in the south. And I answered this question in part by saying number one, that considering the fact, that in gubernatorial elections, the most extreme candidate on the race issue usually wins, the person we might consider to be the representative of the mob, usually, gets the majority of the votes, and wins, looking at the Beckwith trial, considering the fact that the governor of this state, lost on that, he walks in and he shakes this man’s hand, and there was no hue and cry, on the part of any white element in Mississippi about the governor’s actions, so this is why in my mind, there’s still serious doubts as to whether or not it is not fair to say that the mob represents the majority of the south.
Q: That it does. Represent the majority of the south.
A: It appears that way, I think there is a great deal of evidence to fancy that position. Of course, this is not to say that there are not some people in the south who do not go along, but this is the south, an element in the south, and if we say that the demagogues do not represent the majority of the southern people, then we have to then say that the majority of the southern people are silent.
Q: Yes, you…(unintelligible handwritten word) have to say that. Silent and without leadership. I read somewhere, I have the quote, as a matter of fact, on New Orleans, reminds me of course civil rights, ________ on civil rights, in that report, it said that not one leader in the New Orleans, one white leader, showed himself at all, on the issue, except the segregationists.
A: Well, that’s not altogether true. I’ve had personal experience with some white leaders,
Q: Who showed themselves,
A: Well, it depends on what we mean by --- show themselves. I’m talking about men who went on television, after the first school crisis, the following --- they went on television, to make appeals for order. In addition, they bought a four page ad, in the newspaper. And the really significant thing about what these people did, amounts to nothing more than this. From the day that those men made their appeal on t.v., ---there were no further disorders. Which means that the real power of the people with the power, the power structure, they can do anything they want to do, even though they may be in the minority. When they put the word on the Mayor that this isn’t to be tolerated, then the Mayor tells the chief of police, that this riotous conduct is not gonna be tolerated, it ends just like that. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that they haven’t shown their faces at all. They haven’t been as vocal, as they should have been. I don’t think, they could not even be considered, well, they are moderates, but they haven’t made as much noise as the moderates would be expected to make. And behind the scenes, there have been whites in the community who have worked behind the scenes. I’ve worked with them, am speaking now about people from the Chamber of Commerce, people who are presidents of the banks, and the utility companies. I have personally met with these people on these issues. For example, one thing that we have accomplished, up until this year, if a Negro wanted to become a master plumber, he had to get two master plumbers to sign his application. Well now the truth of the matter is there were no Negroes who were master plumbers.
Q: There were no plumbers at all in New Orleans.
A: There were no Negroes, which meant that it was impossible for a Negro ever to become a plumber, because the white plumbers, would never sign the application. As the result of the person that we worked with, this changed. Presently, if you can get any two reputable citizens, to sign your application, if you want to be a plumber.
Q: Did you change the union regulation on this point?
A: I’m talking now about the city, about the city licensing, the licensing by the – whether a person can join a union or not, is a different.
Q: How much of this is at the union level?
A: I don’t know, this was really, this was not one of our major problems, I don’t throw that out as an aside. We were negotiating on the question of jobs and city government, the question of firemen, on the question of garbage men, which may not appear to be significant, except there are many Negroes with no skills at all, and this is all they are qualified to do. We were negotiating on the removal of signs in city hall and in other public buildings, so this was just an aside. So the chairman of this branch of government, who was in the meeting, said, --“well, here’s what I have done, to indicate my good faith,’ I have never made a thorough analysis, but now these leaders were precipitated by the real, the people who control the majority of the wealth in this city. However, any time the Mayor went back on his word, they would not join us in any attack, for example, the Mayor put this in writing, I wish I had a copy of it here, when I was present, the Mayor stated that signs would be removed from all of the public toilets, and the truth of this was three or fourth months ago. Now this was in August. And the truth of the matter is, the signs are still up. Right this minute. Some of them are not, but for the most part, they are still up. So now when we went back, and said -- well, you haven’t, you didn’t, you know, carry out your agreement, then he just hedged and we threatened him with demonstrations, and we really – he lied, that’s the only way to state it. And as a result of the Mayor’s position, we have not been able to get any more fruitful, any more fruitful negotiations going, which means that, I think would, it appears that before the summer, or not later than the summer, you will have major demonstrations in New Orleans. As a matter of fact, New Orleans, will be the main focal point for demonstrations in the south, during the summer of 1964. This is the situation.
Q: Unless a change takes place.
A: I think at this point, it would have to be a radical change, before, you see, we negotiated for about two years, and we desegregated the lunch counters, we got some jobs for Negroes on Canal Street, and in other areas, and we got some jobs in government, very insignificant jobs, but nevertheless jobs. This was a start, this was to see how much and how fast the community could absorb change. But then the other side wants to see, the man’s in the city government. So at this point, grievances are so high, until there’s just no doubt, I personally, don’t want to negotiate any more. I have no desire whatever, I, at no time, if I’m called by the persons I have with before, I tell them I’m not longer work -- devoting my time to court fights, and to voter registration, plus giving demonstrations whatever support I can.
Q: Do you know anything about the Baton Rouge biracial committee, and its working.
A: I know the man who was chiefly responsible for it, the man by the name of William Mackie, who is a Quaker, and as a matter of fact, he’s in charge of American Friends Service Committee in the state of Louisiana. He’s the Executive Director. He is the guiding hand. He and a guy by the name of Doubleyoo who is a state senator. Just as a ________ , I’d like to state that Doubleyoo was a state senator, he was defeated because of his liberal views, he’s on the Civil Rights Commission, and this man was reelected. He defeated Wendell Harris, who was one of the Governor Davis’ chief henchmen, and I consider this to be the most significant race in the state of Louisiana, but he is now the State Senator. Well, it was these two men, but mainly Mackie, who is a very very great man, who started this. I discussed it with him. And this, as you know, came about only after demonstrations, 1500 kids in the streets, the fire hoses, and the dogs and all of this, so William Mackie was able to prevail upon, again the power structure to do something. They’ve only succeeded thus far in desegregating the lunch counters.
Q: I heard the other day in Baton Rouge, that they have agreed to admit Negro doctors to practice in Baton Rouge hospitals.
A: This is probably true, but I cannot state it as a fact.
Q: I talked to a responsible source, but not to a member of the committee.
A: Well, Ronnie Mann can answer that question.
Q: I didn’t think about it at the time.
A: And by the time I could answer that question for you in a letter, ________. I will know this as I will see where ________. This too, this Wednesday he will be coming down to spend a few days. He’s very active with American Civil Liberties, of which I am a member. Wade Mack is the man.
Q: He would know whether it’s been actually achieved.
A: No question about it, he knows more about it than any other individual.
Q: If you find substantial even though slow progress like that, so long as it has motion, how does that modify your views of yesterday, or would it modify them? I wasn’t quite sure, you see, we were interrupted before coming to what seemed to be a fatalistic view on your part of there being no solution in terms of negotiations, in terms of social progress, depending on “some good will.”
A: I certainly dislike having to have the attitude that I have in many instances on the question, but I’d be less than honest if I said that I don’t possess this attitude, because I don’t believe for example, that these kinds of changes, like you say, -so long as there’s motion, I think the, this is doing nothing to change the basic problem. I think from the viewpoint of our gaining momentum, some changes help our side, but frankly speaking, I think it does harm to the white side in a sense, in the sense of -- what it does, really, it just means that Negroes are getting a little taste of freedom, so to speak, and it just makes them push that much harder. I think Atlanta, Georgia, is a good example.
Q: Well, that is always the case, isn’t it? A gain means acceleration of desire. And
Q: And gains also mean increased powers of organization.
A: That’s right, this is exactly what I am saying, but it doesn’t mean gains does not mean, it means that people become less satisfied, and not more satisfied,
Q: Right, right
A: Which means that my fatalistic attitude toward this thing, certainly isn’t changed. What I’m suggesting is this plain and simple. At what point, when is it possible for white people to look at black people as being human beings. I don’t mean an individual --- white person, I mean as a whole. I read the other day, this happened in the Belgian Congo, and again, I say, it’s probably the same all over, there was this African, I don’t know what went on between these people, but ________, there’s the white woman, and she pushes this guy. I don’t know what happened, but she shoves him. And then the policeman comes and he moves him.
Q: This is in South Africa.
A: No, this is the Belgian Congo. You know what existed in the Belgian Congo in the past, you see, and then can people who are really of good will, discuss this thing. It’s difficult for me to believe that in my, I know not in my lifetime, that there’s gonna be any, that white people are going to be able to look at colored people as really human.
Q: Can you distinguish between looking at colored people as being human, and working arrangements which lead to the direction of justice. Increasing and accelerating the movement toward that. Say -- jobs, skills, say votes. Whether they’re ________ we’re gonna see this or not, the process of actual practical amelioration, practical adjustments, if not leading toward the recognition.
A: I’m not, I don’t deny that for one minute, and this is why I’m still a member of CORE and not a member of the Black Muslims, because I believe that, I believe that ultimately all of these things here, you do these things with the hope that well, and this has always been true of Negroes, well if I accomplish this, if I do that, then these people are gonna realize that I’m human, maybe they will -- you see, but these are minor things, let’s face it. You know, this is the 20th century and we are talking about a people who have been on this continent for over 400 years and there hasn’t been a recognition to date. So this, these slow steps, but significant steps, are, I’m afraid that at times they mean a lot more to the Negro, or they mean different things to the Negro, than what they mean to his white counterpart. It doesn’t mean the same thing.
Q: Right, right,
A: You see this can be a big problem.
Q: I’m certain you are right, about the fact that it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing. But be that as it may, would not just this process lead toward the human recognition.
A: Maybe so, maybe not. Because you see, if you start out 10 miles ahead, well, let’s put it this way, if you start out with 10 times as much as I have, and you constantly give me a little more than I started with, but you constantly get a little more than you started with, and for both, you are getting a little -- the proportion remains the same, you see, then the status is still the same. Do you see what I mean. And I made this statement yesterday, this, I think, should be understood, I think that a large part of this has to be the Negro himself, his mind, you see. Certainly I don’t kid myself. There are certain things that Negroes haven’t recognized. There’s certain Negroes who are not convinced that they are human. There are Negroes who see nothing wrong with going to a store, and not seeing Negroes working, going to a store and they ain’t sit at the lunch counter, but they can spend all their money at this counter. You see, there people who don’t see anything wrong with it.
Q: You mean the basic lack of self-respect, or racial self-respect or human self-respect wither.
A: No self-respect, this is what I mean.
Q: ________ of two sides.
A: I’m talking about the human self-respect, racial self-respect is something altogether different, is somewhat different.
Q: May I cut back to the question of Black Muslims? I remember your remarks of yesterday about them, now, on the one hand, they are, represent a withdrawal, from white society. The emphasis on the nationalistic, black nationalist aspect of it. And, looking forward to totally separate society, not in ________ book on the Black Muslims, a very fascinating book, by the way, he says, that the concealed motivation in the movement, or one of the power motivations which is concealed, is the drive toward the life of and values of the American middle class, that the program of self-betterment, moral and practical, which has been so successful with the Black Muslims, means acceptance of these values, as a channel for their aspirations, ________ are people hopeless about entering “respectability,” their ________ for respectability, so it does not mean actually a withdrawal from the values of the American middle class, it’s a secret movement toward the value of the American middle class, therefore, there is a paradox, a contradiction. Does that make any sense to you?
A: It makes an awful lot of sense. Unfortunately, I did not read the book, and I’m not sure it’s ________. I am not prepared to comment on it, because this is really a lot more than the ________ analysis, this is something I’d like to think about.
Q: Yes, well, his point was, you have the surface appeal, and you have certain hidden appeals, and that they are contradictory. Or do you agree that they are contradictory.
A: I don’t think that they are contradictory, because if I say you have something good, if you’re not gonna share it with me, you see, so I can’t share this with you, so I’ll develop it for myself, I don’t know that this is, there’s anything contradictory, and I don’t want to associate with white people, but I know some of the things they do, I want to adopt, I’m gonna adopt the health habits, for example. And I don’t see anything contradictory about this.
Q: No, there’s no contradiction at the level of, that are technical, whether it’s habits or ice boxes, I think, though I don’t want to assert this, that more is involved, in his statement, that not only the techniques, and objects and habits of the middle class, but also, an inevitable absorption of values, this becomes a way of moving into the middle class society, and the values are absorbed along with the techniques and habits.
A: In other words, what you are saying is that if it’s movement of the thing to be completely separate, then they must do as the American Indian, become complete isolationists, maintain their own values, for example, one of things that white America, prides itself on, is this bit about the one man, one wife, which is somewhat nonsensical, because no one really believes in it. So the movement, they accept this value, where by, in the Muslim countries, if you can afford a harem, get one. I don’t think, if this is what you’re saying, I don’t think that, this has nothing to do with the fact that this is the way of the whites, it’s more that they live in a country where they can’t do nothing else. You see, the big problem with the Black Muslims, ultimately, is that they have not, that the whole thing is, has not been well thought out, because no matter how you attempt to analyze, they have no wealth, and they don’t have any program, by which they could possibly hope to buy any wealth, and they are bound there, it’s impossible, for example, for me to be anything but an American, whether I like it or not, and this is true with the Muslim, this is true with Malcolm X. This is true with the Elijah Mohammed. This is true with all these people, and this is one of the problems of the Negro. Well, now the Puerto Rican in New York, is gradually gaining much more wealth than the Negro. Why? Merely because he has not adopted and lived with it’s American values. Whether we like it or not, the values of America, is to, even if he’s a poor guy, to try to go to a nice restaurant at times, wear nice clothes, get a nice car. This is it. The Puerto Ricans, this hasn’t been a value of the poor Puerto Rican in his country. You see? So, what I’m trying to say, is the Muslims are so bound up in America, that it’s impossible. This guy says, he’s a Muslim, and I’ve seen this in Harlem, a guy standing on the corner, here’s the big Muslim, and Monday morning, he’s going down in the garment center and he’s gonna work for a white man. Here’s a contradiction for me. So I don’t know, I don’t know whether I really understand what this man is trying to say.
Q: Well, he doesn’t develop it at great length. But certainly he’s explored the possibilities of it. What crossed my mind in relation to what he said, let me cut back to explain the quotation of it, with reference to what I’m talking about, Mr. Douglas, this is a paragraph or a passage from Essen-Udem book on the Black Muslims in which he pointed out what he considers to be a fact, that on the one hand, you have the withdrawal of the black nationalism, the ________ as opposed to the American middle class values, you know, but on the other hand, he says the drive towards rehabilitation, and towards habit of thrift, health, and all of that, these are drives toward the American middle class values. And the concealed motive of the Black Muslims movement, is to have, the appeal to move toward American middle class values. Therefore, ultimately it is a movement toward integration, rather than away from integration in white society. Somehow the middle class values, as well as the middle class techniques. That’s his notion, as I take it to be.
A: I’d like to make a further comment on that. Oftimes, I’ve heard people say that what the Negro wants, is to be accepted by white people. And I think more enlightened people say that what the Negro wants is a contract with white people, contract in the sense that we both have something to offer, whereby acceptance might imply that I have nothing to share with you, but everything you have, you know, I’m coming to take a part of. And hence, the resistance, this is caused by it. We have something to share, we have some things that would be beneficial to you, you have some things that would be beneficial to us. Therefore we can enter into this contract, we can you know, live here together. Now, I think maybe what this man, author, I can’t think of his name, is saying here, is that the values that the Muslims are saying – let’s develop something, you know. I don’t think he’s saying, let’s wake up, so we are like white people, and then they won’t have anything not to be accepted. I think that what they’re trying to develop, is something really very vague. And no one is really been very profound in attempting to express it. But I don’t think that, I think the implication what this man is saying, is that these people are seeking acceptance, and I don’t think this is true.
Q: It’s making sense, simply because they are unconsciously seeking it, presents it this way, you see, unconscious drive, concealed appeal of the movement.
A: My initial impression, just off the top of my head, without attempting to analyze it at length, is that first of all, the Black Muslim or the Black Muslim type of thing, is not unprecedented in America. You had a black Muslim kind of thinking with Marcus Garvey, I believe. Initially the motivating force, I would imagine, would be some person who has the wherewithal and enough ability to use a psychological or economic situation, to achieve his own individualistic goals, well, the thought that I’m trying to get across is that I’ve said at one time or another, that Kennedy was not the person that his image was made out to be. In other words, I’m saying he agitated for civil rights, and in a sense, Elijah Mohammed, is agitating in a different direction, toward their own individual goals, but this is only a small part of the situation. I mentioned at one time or other, the business of CORE with action, and reaction. Here, Elijah, or here, Kennedy, sets out a certain action in the community, and of course, unless there’s a response, positively or negatively, his idea goes for naught. The real substance of what the Black Muslims think, would be evidenced by, to me, by those people who form the real run of the mill membership of the Muslim movement.
Q: Let me ask you another question about them, sort of push on. Why Muslims, why reference to a Mohammedan world, what’s the appeal in that?
A: I would say, it doesn’t matter what you call it, if the response is the kind of response that you want to get. Well, I mean this seriously, ________ decided with the Negro being led to _______ America. The Mau Mau, do not have to use Mohammedism, they could attach some significance to nature. Something mysterious now. Now all religions have to have something that’s mysterious. For example, I’ve always thought it was nonsense for anyone to tell me that the Pope is is son of God, or some descendant, this is absolutely nonsense. ________ so Kennedy got himself elected. So, but it has its mysticism, you see. So the American Negro, they had to bring something that was a mystery to him, that was a mystery to him, so you talk about Mohammedism, it’s way out, so to speak. There was nothing in America that you could have built and attach any supernatural significance to, that would not have been, identifiable with whites.
Q: In other words, the Christian religion would not serve.
A: Oh, the Christian religion world would not serve, this is the real theory of many centuries. And I go to church tomorrow morning, I’m a Methodist, I go for personal reasons, I suppose, but this isn’t appealing. The Muslims, they may think that they are fighting the white American, white people in an international sense, but they are really fighting this Christianity, and they are right. The church supported slavery, the church supports segregation, and we have discussed this. When the segregationist, this woman, Mrs. Gilliard (?), when she said to the Archbishop, well, Archbishop you are telling me now that segregation is sinful, where has the church been? Even today there are churches, where Negro Catholics sit in the back. So, look, when did it become sinful. Is it something that was always sinful, father, or is it something that just got sinful, since 1954, and these people are right when they ask that question. The biggest hypocrites in the world have been the Christians, this is true, this is true with the Baptists, some kids, some friends of mine, went to sit in a Baptist Church, the Big Rev. J. B. Gregg, and he said, go where you’re wanted, and this is a question too. Christ says no east and west, this, you know. So I think, if there’s anything, I agree with the Muslims, in so far as they say the Negro should reject Christianity, this is gonna get us no place, all this means is turning the other cheek, we were talking and some said, that the preacher in the white church, tells the white kids, to slap the Negroes, and the preacher in the colored church, tells the Negroes to turn the other cheek. So I think, I don’t think that movement on Christianity, they had to be anti-Christian. This was the ABC of it, without this, there would have been no possible chance to develop. Look the minds the Muslims are trying to appeal to. They are appeal to people that they have to show them, now look at these sins, and believe me, you could never win ________ with the Muslims on the race question. The evidence is that high in his favor. I could show that Christianity has failed me as a Negro. And
Douglas A: Well, let’s bring it down to New Orleans in a sense, well with my opinion, is that the balance in the segregation versus integration, bit in New Orleans, particularly, because of the fact that there are such a substantial number of Catholics, both Negro and white, lies within the power of the Catholic church, until now, we have, when I saw we, now, I’m speaking about Catholics, we only give obeisance verbally to the moral mandate. Well, I don’t fall within a strict category, Catholic, I guess if you throw me in or out on the basis of tenets, I’d have to say no, I was baptized, I went to Catholic grammar school and high school, but high school, but and Catholic law school, but it’s not satisfying to me.
Elie A: He hasn’t been to a church in a number of many years, let’s put it that way.
Elie A: Off the other hand, I go to church every Sunday,
Q: That’s the Methodist church.
Elie A: Wouldn’t make any difference, I don’t see any difference. I go to Methodist church because of, my wife was Methodist, and my father was Catholic, my mother was Baptist, and we agreed that whatever religion, I’d pick, she would join. And I didn’t used to go to church, and my wife and I would have an argument every Sunday morning, was about the only thing we argued about, so I said --well, the hell with it, ________
A: Of course, there’s a real reason why I don’t go to church, because the symbolism which viewed in churches, particularly, in the Catholic church, has been, well the focus has been so much on symbolism, that persons who are baptized, and born and educated in the church, by and large, don’t recognize what the purpose of the church is, and the symbolism is lost all its original purpose. And I can communicate to whoever is responsible for our being here, on a person to person basis, at my convenience, as well as I can anywhere else. So I feel that in making the most of whatever it is that I have to offer, is as much that I can do, as against a person who feels that when he doesn’t eat meat on Friday, he has fulfilled his obligation as a Catholic for that particular day.
Q: Mr. Douglas, I have been reading, those very interesting essays you gave me. And I have a question or two that stem from that reading. In one of your theses you say that the fact that the New Orleans Negro population as opposed to community, I’m getting at, the fact that ________ there’s no way to refer to a Negro community as a geographical sense. You say this or imply that this has been a liability in New Orleans. The dispersal, the geographic dispersal. I believe of the community. Now would it seem to some people anyway, that this dispersal, would actually make for absorption into general society, make for integration, rather than work against it, with relation to school attendance, in relation to the ghetto altogether, you see.
DOUGLAS:I don’t think that, let me put it this way, built into everything, built into my position, of necessity is the theory of contradiction. However, when I say that the fact that Negroes are scattered throughout the city, might have a deleterious effect on any constructive work that we might do, what I meant a little more specifically, was that and I think Myrdal makes reference to it, is the fact that we’ve had a matriarchal family set-up, and so the dispersal goes even further than geographically. What I had in mind, was the situation, where in order to contribute something of a substantial nature to any community, one has to learn how to work with other people, and of course, if the family is broken up, you can’t do this, because this is the starting point, brothers and sisters work together and fathers and, parents, to fit it in geographical situations, there is a certain kind of togetherness that can occur, with Negroes who have a peculiar problem. You can’t expect initially other people to be sympathetic or to assist you in whatever ways they feel they should assist you, unless they feel that you are first of all, making an attempt to help yourself.
Q: This would sound like, I’m not saying, that this what I got out of it, but it can be said, that this would lead to a statement, attributed to you, that you work out of the ghetto to bigger and better ghettos, the cultivated ghetto motivates the force of the break-out of the ghetto, and forces towards integrated and free society, ________ really back in business.
A: You are a long way from that.
Q: Let me --- you are the Catholic member of the firm.
A: Yes, I think so. Sometimes these guys try to convince me that I’m not a Catholic.
Q: You referred to Myrdal a moment ago, let’s go back for a moment, ________ Reconstruction in the south. After the civil war. He would consider the ideal program, of that period, what would have worked, would have avoided our later difficulties, as I remember it, it’s something like this. There would have been compensation to slave holders; there would have been expropriation of land, but payment for land, that was expropriated; there would have been a distribution of land, to ex-slaves, but on a purchase basis, at a very very low price, and yet to be amortized over a very long period of time, but at least to make this a purchase, and not a free gift, for obvious ________; there would have been supervision of land for a while, so that no sales could have been made, the person who undertook this, the burden of ownership, couldn’t have been exploited by sharpees; that there would have been educational programs for both Negroes and whites; and the resettlement of Negroes on western land, the dispersal of the southern concentration with some attempt at supervised industries, or farming, for the new conditions to be confronted. Does that make sense?
DOUGLAS:Well, my immediate response to that is, that I retained enough of this give-and-take of the American democratic system, to be against any situation where, and I recognize the fact that I subject to criticism for this kind of statement, particularly, when the, some of the civil rights people, are urging that the preferential treatment be given the Negroes, I don’t believe in giving away anything to anybody, anything material, that is. And I think artificial means of compensating for things which have had a bad effect on us in the past, are not a real substitute because the people in power are gonna eventually, and perhaps sooner, find a way to get this from you unless you know to protect it. What I’m attempting to say is this, if the law is administered fairly, and if persons are given an opportunity to compete on the basis of your individual merits, then you don’t need an artificial situation. Now you can have your chance to talk. Go ahead.
Elie: Well, I can’t agree, now we are talking about equal chance to compete. You talk about the people that have just been let out of bondage. To me, there was no way in hell for them to compete. I think that perhaps ________ except I’m reminded that you evaluated this in terms of something that has failed. What was tried during Reconstruction in a sense, has failed, so he has a
Q: A second try.
A: Well, that’s true.
DOUGLAS:In other words, I don’t think you can argue with the proposition, that if given an equal chance to compete, anybody who is born in a situation like this, there’s very little more than he
Elie: You’re talking about today -- given an equal chance, you’re a lawyer, he’s a lawyer, you have an equal chance, you can do all right. But now you are talking now about a group of people who are were illiterate, and you are saying that you want to just give them a chance to compete? With the people that have been educated? And the people who are running the country? What the hell good is an equal chance?
Collins: Well, of course, I think to use that question _________ you seem to indicate both in your preface to your last remarks, that perhaps the question was somewhat academic. Well I think it’s very practical for this reason. That in your later remarks, then you _________ that it does _________. Perhaps there is some germ in truth in what Myrdal said, was the solution then, for the solution now.
___: Especially the point of dispersed, this kind of thing.
A: I’m not denying that, there’s nothing that I said.
Q: You’re saying, Mr. Collins, then, that the fact of Myrdal’s scheme, has concealed reference to the present.
COLLINS: Correct. I think he, of course, realized that he was speculating, what had _________, but I think that he must have had, I think he did have, a practical reference, for the future, as to what’s being done.
Q: I find this notion, coming up now and then. Some say, “I think Myrdal is right, except for number one.” Compensation to slaveholders. Or they say Myrdal is right, except for number two, compensation to the landowners, for expropriate land.
COLLINS: This is the same situation that exists when you enter in compromise of a lawsuit, the guys generally ask for more than they expect to get, and whatever you get, is the same kind of situation where the people present would say, “Well, we would accept points 3, 4, 5, of Myrdal, but we don’t go along with 1 and 2.”
Q: *handwritten word beside answer “recent” Well, my interest is this. In finding the motivation, you see, we say --- I accept all, it would have been a good idea, but it’s long since past, the possibility, or it was a bad idea. Or I resist, in discussing part of this program. In a retroactive way. That this is something to be told, by how I respond to Myrdal’s program, even if hypothetical ground. ________ In reference to a past situation. Whatever the approach it is, what does it imply about the spirit of an arrangement for the present, if not details.
DOUGLAS:But I think the two requirements that I’ve outlined, would apply theoretically both to the civil war period then, and to the period now. This is all that I ask personally, the opportunity to compete. I don’t want anybody to give me anything, and I think this is a part of the whole civil rights movement. We’re not asking the majority race to give us something. We’re only asking that we be accorded the same basic rights and opportunities which have been accorded to the white people for the very same reason. Our chief complaint about the administration of justice and about the legislative setup in the south now, is that legislatively the entire panoply of state government, city government, and whatever other kinds of government, you have, is thrown into the balance against the Negro, and I think a substantial step forward will be made when we get some semblance of fairness in treatment, not only in the civil rights cases, but in your criminal cases, and also in your civil cases. This system of segregation is so invidious that it permeates unconsciously the minds of a judge when he decides what is the money value of a Negro child who has been killed wrongfully in an automobile accident. And these are the, this is one of the many many many instances of how we’ve been shortchanged. And the classic answer is that there’s no one way to solve the problem, but it’s the buckshot approach from all angles, and get whatever you can while you can get it.
Q: Have any of you ever found yourselves discriminated against, you think, from the bench?
A: I think we could best answer that by telling you, where is that question about ________. We tried civil rights cases, and I think you can arrive at your own conclusions, we represent CORE, we’ve been going up to Clinton, Louisiana, for many months now, about nine I suppose, and the judge before whom we try these cases, we learned only this week, that he’s a director of the Louisiana Citizens Council, I don’t think it takes much imagination, to realize that we’ve experienced discrimination from the bench. No, let me say this, when you say the “bench,” do you mean if I’m representing a person before Judge X, will I get the same things that a white lawyer would have gotten had he been representing him, I’d say – no, the answer is no, because the judges don’t discriminate because I’m a Negro, if they’re gonna discriminate it’s because the client is a Negro. and if he is represented by a white lawyer, it isn’t gonna do him any very much good,
A: I think that we’ve experienced discrimination in both because I can think of one very good example of a case in which there were Negroes on both sides. But I think that we had a prejudiced ________ who was prejudiced against us as Negro lawyers.
A: Was there something that you don’t like to admit in your own case.
A: Yes, it’s something that you don’t like to admit, frankly, it’s something that a lawyer finds very difficult conform, because really it puts you out of competition in the market for the, in other words, we have less to sell if we can’t get for our clients the same thing or more than anyone else. Frankly speaking, we don’t have the practice, as Negro lawyers, that we should have. We would like to think that Negroes would discriminate in our favor, in giving us their business, not only because of this, perhaps false notion of race pride, but also, because of the fact that we can do more for them, or just as much anyway, put it on an equality basis, just as much as any other lawyer. Now certainly, I feel that I’m as qualified as any other member of the bar, any other average member of the bar, certainly some that I feel are more qualified than me in terms of their age or their experience and opportunity, but certainly, we feel that we represent in this office, a cross section of the Bar Association, in the city of New Orleans, in the state of Louisiana, and we can represent our clients as well as any one else. And in most situations, we don’t feel that we have any problems, but we have an example, certainly. Now, some Jewish lawyer might be able to make the same comment. Or maybe some Italian lawyer might be able to make that comment before an Irish judge, maybe this Irish judge doesn’t like Italians. So it may be that the discrimination that we have experienced as Negroes, is no more in this particular situation, because at times we suspect that we are discriminated in favor of, with reference to certain judges. Certain judges might us a break because of the fact that they feel that perhaps we need some extra help.
Douglas: We, particularly, when we’ve been involved in civil rights cases, have had occasion to discuss with the judges and with the district attorneys, certain phases of the cases. And on more than one occasion we have been blatantly told, that, I believe the man was sincere when he said, it, although I thought he was wrong, he said, “I lean over backwards to help the Negro. When he should get three years, I give him one year. When he should get one year, I give him a suspended sentence, and this is exactly what I mean when I said earlier, I don’t want anybody to do any favors for me. If I’m wrong, then say I’m wrong. But the important thing to me, is when I’m right, I want to be right. And don’t you see that this ties in with the essence of justice, because if a person is given wrong when in essence he’s right, then this strikes at the core of everything that this man lives by. Right and wrong become intermingled and mixed up, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re on the right side of the fence, or the wrong side of the fence, because you’re gonna be given wrong anyhow. So then, and this ties up with the temper of the movement. The Negroes feel that, well, why not boycott. We don’t have anything to lose. I don’t have any money invested in the store. And the white people are beginning to realize that they have money invested in a store, and the Negroes are never satisfied as I thought they were, and the white people, are ---gonna stop coming around, if the stores remain boycotted, and there’ll be tension in situations where they never felt the tension about it before. And maybe this is the fortunate thing, the bad publicity scares off incoming industry, and again, you have a pinch not on an individual basis, but on a citywide basis, or perhaps on a statewide basis.
Q: Rev. Abernathy told me that they’ve had great success in their selective boycotts in Atlanta. On a job basis, they haven’t failed yet, to get results.
END OF TAPE ONE (1).
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Elie: My partner has stated that he believes that he believes that the solution to the problem is to just give Negroes the right to compete on an equal basis, in every area of life. I reject this position.
DOUGLAS:Now I don’t mind you stating what my position is, I don’t want you to mis-state it. I said that artificial means of bringing Negroes up to par, are not satisfactory to me, because in its artificiality, the persons who acquire anything soon lose them to persons who have more experience than them.
Elie: Myrdal said -- well, let’s say, we distributed a lot of land to the Negro, and gave him some kind of land right, that this would be a kind of a false equalization, if this what you think?
DOUGLAS:I’m not opposed to giving people preferred rights, but I’m saying that if you give them preferred rights alone, without the equal opportunity bit and without the even application under the law, then you’re fooling yourself.
___: I’m in such a position that I’ll ________. What I’m trying, ________ that you have at this point, you have to give Negroes something more than an equal opportunity to compete, but whatever you give him, it must include equal opportunity to compete. If you say that, I’ll agree with you, because the other way, it’s like,
DOUGLAS:I’m saying even more than that, I’m saying, I’m saying, that given a choice out of three, I would rather have the even application of the law.
___: There’s no question about it. I’m not denying that, but you take this, now believe me, when I disagreed with what you said, I agree with what ________. I agree with ________.
Elie: Well, of course, it seemed to me that when you went it into it before, you seemed to be giving individualized interpretation of the Negro problem, and really he’s thinking in terms of his situation, it would be easy for him to adjust, so why not.
___: What you seem to be telling me, would be that it would be easy for you to adjust than if let’s say all the doors were thrown open, and you know, you can go in any store that you wanted to, and have any job, that, this is what you would want. I think that the Negro needs more than that now. You see? To give you an example, in New York, as you know, they have the problem with the school problem, what does the Superintendent of Schools in New York proposed to do, as I understand it, was to try to give, to bring the Negro schools up to par. But you got a very great amount of opposition to this idea of trying to have some kind of artificial mixing of the groups, bussing the students in and out of the districts, so that you have more or less racial equality, I mean, racial numbers equal, or approximately equal in all schools. Some Negroes, the Negro leadership thinks that this is the answer, for then you would have a kind of cultural intermixing. The administrative problems of such a thing are tremendous. It seems to me that this kind of thing, is a real problem. Merely to bring, to open the doors to Negroes, now, will not solve their problems. You’ve got to have some kind of plan, where by the Negro is given opportunities to bring himself up to the standard, I mean, when I say, the Negro, on the nationwide basis.
___: But on this question, this cultural intermingling, this is a great thing. Well I was discussing with Marvin ________ last week, and I said to him that I’m not at all certain that I would want to send my kid to school in Harlem, and I think it’s unrealistic to believe that you’re gonna get any segment of the people to -- Harlem has said that they have the worst schools, the worst every dam thing -- and these people are gonna send their kids to Harlem? Marvin Ko________ said, well, he isn’t concerned, because he doesn’t know a single middle class Negro would be willing to send, he says, he’d get more resistance from Negroes. Because of the middle class Negroes, are on the up, and they send them to private schools.
Q: They do.
___: See, so this is, I don’t know exactly what we’re gonna make of it. But I do not believe, I think we’re gonna have to get a genius from some place, to get a solution, but bussing them in, isn’t the solution, believe me. Because you, I think we can all agree there are schools I wouldn’t want to send my kid
*handwritten note: ________ Carmichael
A: On the bussing-in technique, I’ve heard it said this way. I know white people in New York and around New York, who say “I will welcome the presence of any Negro child in the school where my child is, I would fight to the death to have my child stay in the school where he is.”
___: I don’t follow, don’t understand.
Elie: They would not want the send their children out of the school, they’ll say – well, look, you can bring some in here, in other words, what they’re saying in essence, is -- we don’t have any objections to your bring in some children whose standards perhaps are lower than ours, underprivileged children and bringing them in here, but we don’t want to go to their school, or to send our kids to their school where their standards are lower.
Q: That’s right. We’ll hold these standards here and introduce any number of Negro students here, and one thing is, a mother is heard say, taking a child of 8 or 9, and putting that child 2 hours on the bus, too late, of course, but the child, this is the wrong way to handle it. Two hours of out of a child’s life is impossible, or even one hour extra.
___: There’s have to be just an elimination of school districts and boundaries, you see, this is what is going to be ultimately in a community like New York. But I’d be damned if I can see, if I lived in New York presently, and then want to bus my kid to Harlem, or Brooklyn, for instance, Bedford Stuyvesant, I couldn’t see that.
*handwritten word: unintelligible
Collins ?: Well, I think that the leadership may be somewhat, the Negro leadership may be somewhat impractical, in the solution that they propose. But I think the main idea behind it, my interpretation, is to get the school board to do something. At least, the school board is thinking seriously about this thing, they’re thinking about it now, trying to get the best teachers, and to put more money into the schools. You see, that’s been the situation. The best teachers in New York just don’t want to teach in Harlem. And they do teach in Harlem, but _________ their schools, the physical plant isn’t equal to the other schools, the standards are lower, the principals let the teachers get away with more, or ________ the violence, it’s a bad system in New York, just aren’t willing to do anything about it. Now it’s same thing as this, you can take any place. Either north or south. You’ve got the same situation as far as the Negro schools and the white schools, the same problem, just on a grand scale in New York.
Q: The problem that is going to be even more acute, where you have something like 80% of all the children in the public schools, are Negro. Who’s gonna be bussed in? Where are you going to get them? Bring them from West Virginia every morning, you see, that’s what I’m arguing, and New York is going in that direction…(unintelligible 2 handwritten words)
___: I was reading in the paper today, something like 60%, more than half, of the school children in Harlem today, are Negro, in New York City. Maybe it’s Manhattan, may not be --- I don’t think it’s the whole of New York City, just in the borough of Manhattan,
Q: Yes, it’s some terrific percentage. About 70%, I think.
___: Well, of course, the problem, let me say this, that nothing is really be done, to solve the problem so far as residence is concerned, so rather than, they started attacking ________ say, that if we can lift the education of these people, who come out of the ghetto, perhaps then we can do something about the standards of society in general. But you know, what can you do, you can’t shuffle people like a deck of cards, so far as housing is concerned.
DOUGLAS:I’d like to get back to something that Myrdal said earlier, there’s some time I do agree with him, you know. When he wrote this article, he pointed out that in New Orleans, the reasons why we not been able to elect anyone, was because of this geographical dispersal of people. This is true, I mean, Negroes in Harlem, can elect state representatives, they can send Adam Clayton Powell to Congress. We can’t do that here, because there are pockets of Negroes all over the city, but the fact that there are pockets of Negroes in the south, may mean that it’s gonna be a hell of a lot easier to integrate the schools in the south, than in the north, and this is why, when people make the comment, that integration is gonna come to the south, true integration and equality, before it hits the north, I think what he might have in mind.
Q: Did I tell you the other day about the young lady who’s second in her class _________, of Howard University Law School, and her remarks to me, having lunch together, in November? Her first words, were, in conversation, says -- I’m from the south, I was born in and raised in a farm in Virginia, and I have much more hope, for peace soon and an acceptable peace in the south, than I have in the north. She said -- one reason, we share a common history. We have lived on the same land, she said, there’s some basis for human recognition. There’s some human contact here, to fall back on. Even with the policemen in Birmingham, using the law. Some bank to use, to draw on. I can’t see it in New York, I can’t see in Detroit or Chicago.
___: I agree with her.
___: But you know, the problem, is what is New York gonna do with Harlem. What is Chicago gonna do with the South Side, what is Los Angeles gonna do with the town of ________. Here are your problems. Believe me, the problem of the Negro in the north isn’t altogether different from the problem that the southerners had with slaves. They didn’t know what the hell to do with them. And this is a fact. And the solution, I don’t know. In the south, these kids, I know the boys that I went to school with, are elected to public office. And they’re being elected now. There have been really radical changes, not enough of them, but in the north it’s a different kind of thing, altogether. Given, the kind of political equality that exists, when I say political equality, I mean nothing more than the right to vote, I don’t mean to imply that Negroes have political equality, in the north, or political power, but what I’m suggesting, is given the right to vote, given the kind of thing that _______ is describing, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but the south, the kind of things that he tells about. It’s something that doesn’t really exist any place.
Q: Let me shift the ground, the conversation, a little bit, please. I know a Negro psychiatrist, with whom I’ve had one conversation, will have others, he says the New Negro movement, that he sees, is an expression of the male principal, I think of the male, not the principal, as opposed the basis of matriarchal society, of the American Negro, until well this generation. He reads it that way in the light of his profession. What kind of sense does that make?
DOUGLAS:Well, my immediate impulse is to agree with him, purely from a masculine viewpoint. But certainly there have been Negro women, who have made substantial contributions to the civil rights movement, and I can think of one immediately, Auritha Castle, and her sister and her mother, who have played a large part in the civil rights struggle here in New Orleans. I don’t know, if he’s talking about matriarchal in the sense, in the historical sense as against patriarchal now, I would have to agree that the men I would agree that now the male is assuming, what I would consider his proper position in the role of things here in the south. This is not to say that women don’t play a substantial part, because
Q: He wouldn’t deny that of course.
DOUGLAS:Generally, I’d have to agree with him.
___: I don’t know whether I agree or disagree with him, you know what I mean, it never occurred to me.
Elie: Well, I happen to know, of course, I read a great deal on this, that the so-called Negro society or Negro vote generally has been characterized among psychiatrists and sociologists and even anthropologists as a matriarchal society, because of the fact, all the way back from slavery time, the mother as the family, rather than the father, has been the mainstay, of the race. Of course, this has persisted even down to the present time. Of course, the existence of a great number of, for instance, common law marriages, and, or no marriages all, where a woman might have, you know, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten children, this kind of thing, I think is the reason behind, saying historically you’ve had this matriarchal society, which is now becoming patriarchal in nature. I would say agree that the male is, the Negro male is coming to the forefront during this movement. However, I don’t feel that we have moved far enough away from the matriarchal society yet. If we had a true patriarchal society, among Negroes, a patriarchal group, I would say we would probably have a revolt in the United States among Negroes. It’s been unfortunate, perhaps, that the Negro male has been willing to take as much as he has taken, and to have his women and children subject to this, ________ for years. Of course, this is one reason why the group has been characterized more or less as a matriarchal group, because of perhaps the lack of aggressiveness in terms of resistance to the system of segregation and discrimination that has existed in the south.
Q: Are any of you acquainted with a book by Stanley Elkins, it’s not widely known, I think it is an important book, book called ________Slavery? --published by University of Chicago Press. The thesis is primarily of this -- that only in the United States was the slave system directed at destroying the sense of identity and the sense of masculinity of the slave. Now this is not true in Brazil, or West Indies, or anywhere in existence. Because there marriage, in the Catholic countries, marriage was a sacrament recognized, by the state, church, and by the slaveholder, whether he liked it or not. ________ was a true marriage. And also the state in Brazil or in Cuba, despite all the abuses, had its supervisor outside the home, and made visits, and reports, so at least theoretically there was a place of appeal, an outside power placed AGAINST the owner’s power. So often it didn’t work, the theory was there. So you had a long history of revolt in Brazil and other places, with a very spotty history and very limited history of revolt in America. And you have a deliberate or at least instinctive system of destroying personality. This is the male personality.
___: Do I understand you to say that his theory is that there was no deliberate attempt.
Q: His theory is only in America, you see, it’s where the system was, in a way, paternalistic, as opposed to the more formal thing in the catholic country, it worked out either instinctively or deliberately, as a way of actually robbing the Negro man of his role, his self-respect. While it is not true in the South American countries, or Cube, or Haiti and those place. And yet the slavery revolts, he says, indicated this.
___: Well, I’d like to challenge the use of the word “paternalistic” in reference to the system of segregation, which
Q: I don’t mean segregation, I mean slavery.
___: Well, with the system of slavery.
Q: Well, the word is in quotes, and we can, you know.
___: Well, in essence, isn’t the system of segregation, which has existed, merely an extension of slavery, in just a different form? Certainly in the child of slavery. In essence, it’s just another kind of slavery. Just a more relaxed form of slavery. So if
DOUGLAS:I would think that segregation is more invidious than slavery. Because it robs a man of the only thing that he can use, and that’s the feeling that he can stand four-square and meet whatever it is to challenge
___: In essence, you agree with this man’s thesis. And I’ve heard it on many occasions, and I’ve read it in different places, I can’t quote the one from whom I read it, I tell you this -- Are you familiar with Daniel Thompson’s book called Negro Leadership Class,
Q: The one in New Orleans?
___: Right. In this book, I didn’t read the whole book, but in this book Thompson discusses this question, he discusses the question of the concept of the matriarchal Negro society.
___: I haven’t read anything yet that tended to relate ideas of matriarchal family life, among Negroes, and how this is related to the Negro revolt.
___: If the Negro revolt is a revolt against the matriarchal family, in other words, where the Negro male is now beginning to realize that he has been robbed in essence of the role that he plays, and that _________ of course, this is an attempt in a sense, to summarize what’s happening among a group of some 20 million people, in the United States.
___: The only problem I have with that is,
___: This is the generalization.
___: The problem that I have with that is what Mel has touched on, it is that you have a very significant part of this movement, is being led and directed by women. And I don’t think that this accounts for it, you see. This is my problem.
___: Of course, the women play a greater part than meets the eye, for example, I imagine if my wife tends to oppose some of the activities that I follow as a result of my work in civil rights, that it would restrain my activities substantially, and this is a substantial contribution, as I see it.
___: Here again, you are attempting to interpret what we see in the movement, in terms of this particular one example involving yourself.
___: Well, Bob, whether we admit it or not, all interpretation is based largely upon your own personal experiences and your ability to project and imagine what goes on
___: It wouldn’t be based upon just your own personal experience. Your one example of the effect, you have -- at least you would try to
___: Well, it’s not difficult
___: to try to bring out of your experience, what you have learned from a number of different experiences, and then summarize it, not just based on what you yourself does or what someone told you. Actually, you may feel a little different about it. I would, you know, if you were trying to say what you think is happening here, you might disagree with what’s happening, but you would interpret it as this is what is going on, because I see so many example of it. And to me, of course, I don’t think there’s a basic disagreeing, although Lolis doesn’t seem to get the same interpretation out of the situation as you or I get, that is, that this in essence, is becoming a revolt against the old, say, women-led kind of family or society among Negroes.
Q: What about the Negro anti-Semitism? Does that appear in this community?
DOUGLAS:We’ve been so busy, trying to get ourselves included into the mainstream of things that this is a luxury, really, not, well, maybe it’s a poor choice of words, but it’s the kind of thing that occurs when you have, well, the short answer, is there is no anti-Semitism, as far as I’ve been.
___: I’d like to attempt to answer that, and really I want to attempt to answer it, I’ve been meeting with a group of Jewish women and one Jewish man at least, in the past period, as a matter of fact, I’m going to speak to a city-wide group on the 19th, and they asked this very question. And I say, my answer was exactly as Mil’s answer, saying I was reminded that a Baptist minister at a public meeting once, he was making a speech, we had just been denied the use of a municipal auditorium for the Rev. Martin Luther King. Two of the judges that overruled the district court, were of the Jewish faith, or had been. It’s highly questionable, again, if this person is Jewish, he stops going to synagogue, and this Baptist minister made the statement, saying -- they denied us the use of this public facility, and two of them were Jews. So the guy works for the Anti-Defamation League, he said this man said that he was, because this man is a noted Negro hater, this significant that there was a large amount of anti-Semitism in New Orleans, and this is what he said, after I said, I thought there was not. And I thought me must misinterpreted what the man was saying altogether. I think, we feel very close to Jews, certainly I do, and the reason, because these people, those among them, that see anything at all, they see number one, that the Negro is nothing more than a buffer for Jewish people, this guy said, he had to have something between him and the ground, if he didn’t have the Negroes, he’d have the Jews, no question about it.
Number two, these people, I mean particularly, the moneyed Jewish people, I’m not talking about the Jewish people who don’t want to be Jews, but intermingle, you know, get invited to a country club, once a year, on Brotherhood Week or something, I, not those people, or those who change their names, I mean, the Orthodox and the Conservative Jewish people. They identify themselves very closely with the movement, you see, and I would say that, one other point, that the Negro does not make distinctions between white people, this was true of me after I was 21 years old, either a person was white or colored,
Q: All Chinese look alike, in other words.
___: I mean, this is right. You know, just in terms of, the only way I know that some people today are Jewish, is because some guy who is Italian, told me, and says, we’re discussing another lawyer, in a case, and he said -- well that Jewish bastard, you can’t trust him. And of course, what he tells this Jewish bastard when he talks about me. I don’t think there’s any anti-Semitism in New Orleans, to amount to anything.
Q: There is in some places, of course,
___: There’d probably be some in New York.
Q: Philadelphia had a bad case of it. I read in the papers.
___: I think it’s stupid.
DOUGLAS:Of course, I don’t identify with certain segments of the Jewish community, that Lolis has, I don’t have the same identification that Lolis is speaking of, at least I don’t think I have the same identification. And the distinction with me now is, white and black, either you are white or you are black. And this is unfortunate in my opinion, because this shows that the controlling factor of course, is first color, in any individual, when it should be individuals first.
Q: Did you the article in the ________ on the telephone recordings attacking Jews because they promoted integration. Reply to it, there’s a long article in it. This morning’s paper, yes. In________, I guess, the big paper, big column inside. This is not the Negro anti-Semitism, this is anti-Semitism, because of the relationships between the Jews and the Negroes.
___: Well, the Jews are certainly the chief financial backers of the civil rights movement, some for very selfish reasons, most of the lawyers that have been willing to help us, have been Jewish lawyers. Most of the white people participating in the demonstrations have been Jewish people and this is one of the big reasons why the National Council of Churches and Catholic groups have decided to get after it. So you can start going down the line – chief counsel for CORE, ________, chief counsel for legal defense of the N.A.A.C.P., Jack Greenberg. So you can go down the rest, and if you look at CORE, there are many people, who, when you say they are Jewish, now again, these are not the people who go to the synagogue. Some of them may even be Baptists, so, are they Jewish, in other words, if – maybe Hebrew is the term we should us. I don’t, I would hate to believe that Negroes would be anti-Semites, but on the other hand, they would have to, some of the would have to be, this is a part of being America, you have to hate something, you know, if you don’t, then you can’t be an American.
Q: May cut back to one of your essays,
DOUGLAS:I don’t know if you properly call it an essay.
Q: Why not:
Q: Here’s a quotation, this was written several years ago, a few years ago, Dr. A. Wilkerson, “the Negro has succeeded only in ________ where progressive economic or political trends, and not independent of such trends in surrounding society.” I’m going back to your passage on betrayals, you see, of Negro operation, in the actual writing of it, in the Constitution, at the time of the civil war, ________. Here’s the quote: “This is the fundamental lesson in our history, we saw the 1940’s as another sharpening conflict in which the Negro’s goal is bound in the general national goals, that the actual movements which have led to Negro advancement, have be made in terms of relations to progressive white movements, not as a result of that, but allied forms with it. Each phase has been a special kind of ally, ________.
DOUGLAS:It might very well be that civil rights movement is the complete example of this.
Q: That’s what I’m getting at it, how do you feel about that.
DOUGLAS:My position is that while certain impetus was given by the ’54 Supreme Court decision, which of course, was in the making for a number of years, that the entire causation was not solely within the factors which existed within the United States alone, but is the result, more or less direct, of the lack of decisive balance between perhaps the United States and Russia, for leadership of the world; and as a result of this imbalance, it became necessary for the United States, to corral as much influence from as many sources as it possible could. Hence, the eventual ’54 decision which gave some more legal color to our claims for justice where none actually existed in fact previously, which would permit us to give some sort of credence to the story that we’re trying to give the entire noncommunist world. I don’t know if I’ve articulated it _________.
Q: I’m following you. There are two questions then
*DOUGLAS: In other words, maybe from the another standpoint, this is good for us, because the closer the competition gets to the United States, and I said this 4 or 5 years ago, the closer the competition is between Russia and the United States, then eventually we’d have government officials and corporation officials coming to the college door, and sifting out the better brains of the Negro students, and apparently this is what is happening on a small.
Q: Is there also a change, you think, of moral climate? I say this because your passage in your writings, is is not ________, of course, it’s
*handwritten note in margin: “Negro…is by product”
summarized, I don’t mean to attribute to _________, that’s why I’m quoting a little bit more now, does not take into account the changes you’re talking about, of moral climate,
DOUGLAS:No, I don’t think there’s been a moral change, I think this is
Q: Merely a question of the need, practical need for
DOUGLAS:I would think so, yes.
Q: That is, there is no moral improvement in the atmosphere of now, as opposed to 1861.
DOUGLAS:I don’t think so.
Collins: Well, I would have to disagree with you, I know that. I think that we have a whole lot more people, today, percentage-wise in the United States today, who believe that segregation is immoral, than believed it in 1861. If we don’t, heaven help us. Because I think that not only do we have to gain legal victories, and if they get a civil rights bill passed, we also want to change people’s feelings with reference to the entire question of segregation and discrimination. We’re working to see victories not only things that they must do because the law, but it’s the thing to do because it is right.
___: Now -- let’s take the Catholic church itself. Where was the Catholic church in 1861.
DOUGAS: Where is it now?
___: Where was the Methodist Church?
___: Where is it now?
___: All these other churches, that are supposed to give moral leadership, to the country. They were silent. But now, I think this is a sensitive situation, every time I get on the soap box about religion, this ________. One I think is an agnostic, and the other is an atheist.
___: Well _________ morality is just too much for me.
Q: It’s possible, after the arrangements are made, suppose all the legal decisions are made, favorable to civil rights, all the bars are removed by legal action, then there is question finally of a moral climate,
___: That’s correct, of course, Martin Luther King eloquently put it, it’s not necessary for man to love me, in order to stop him from lynching me. I think that once the barriers are removed, that people’s attitudes will change. You hear this question about whether you should wait for people’s attitudes to change first before you institute these reforms.
Q: That’s a key question.
___: Or you know, the question of whether law should come first, or whether the change of attitudes should come first. This has certainly been a perennial question. But of course, I’m firmly of the opinion that the majority of the people in the United States want the change and we’ve had a very powerful and very vocal minority in the south, who have constantly blocked legislation, in Congress, to start some of the changes that should have been going on a long time ago.
DOUGLAS:A very interesting point is that in the enabling position of the 14th Amendment, Congress pared since the enactment of the 14th Amendment, the power to pass legislation which would effected the kind of thing that we’re working for now. And this is a terrible indictment of the immorality; whether it exists now or not seems to be something which doesn’t need to be discussed, because here you have the authority to do it, and public opinion in the minds of those people who should know the policies, just wouldn’t permit it. This is the only reason I can visualize why.
Q: Then or now?
DOUGLAS:Then. Public opinion may have changed now to the extent where we will get an enforceable civil rights bill.
Q: There was no public opinion then to enforce it. In the post civil war period.
DOUGLAS:And it’s questionable as to the kind of public opinion you have now.
Q: There is.
___: When he said there was no public opinion then, you meant no public opinion in the south.
Q: No, I mean in the north.
___: In the north.
Q: It wasn’t enforce, died in a few years, in the big sellout of 1876, and
___: Henry Grady.
Q: Before that, you get
DOUGLAS:I recently read….(unintelligible) Woodward’s comment, and I think I may have mentioned that in one of the ________
Q: My point there was no public opinion of any consequence then, in ’65 to ’76, to enforce the subject of emancipation. There were a few things, ________ available facts. Is there more public opinion now to enforce any measures?
Elie: There’s no possible question in my mind that there is. I don’t know that people are any different now than they were then. But I think people’s experiences with Negroes have been built. I think, frankly, the desegregation of the armed services, is possibly one of the most significant things that has happened in this country. We slept with guys, sat up and ate together, and they were guys who admitted frankly and freely, that they had certain misconceptions, that had since changed, you know, they’d find themselves preferring a conversation with me, than with the guy who was next to me, if for no other reason than we were both raised in a city. Or maybe they liked the way I played poker, so I think that this, if nothing else, has created a certain kind of a climate. And there’s been an awful lot of talk about it, there’ve been Negroes who have been able to talk, and the Negroes in the south. The white people now no longer looked to their maids to tell them what’s going on, they buy Negro newspapers now. There were no books of any consequences, there were no James Baldwins, or Richard Wrights, and Ralph Ellison, that they could have read, and I’m thinking about this boy who wrote Go South
Q: Carol Rowan
___: Oh, Carl Rowan, these people didn’t exist. I mean, they are saying something, and they are saying something that people who are willing to think have thought about, and then we are learning -- there were no atom bombs, there were no newly emerged African nations, even my own views changed about the African people. What I learned about Africa. I never knew Kenyatta existed. All of themselves, what is possible in this world. I think that the church is a little more vocal now than they were then. But they fall short of what they should be doing, certainly what they could do. Because the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, and all of them, still tolerated segregation within the church. There is no question in my mind about it. You’re not going to have a Negro priest saying a mass at the Holy Name, you don’t have any Negroes on the faculty of Loyola -- so to my way of thinking, I know there are some ________ that exclude Negroes.
END OF INTERVIEW